Friday, October 23, 2009

After Miss Julie


A Version of Stridberg's Miss Julie By Patrick Marber, Directed by Mark Brokaw. At the American Airlines Theater. (CLOSED)

Earning everything from an A from David Cote to a rare F- from Terry Teachout, After Miss Julie is a case in which the critics agree about nothing. Sienna Miller is spellbinding and brilliant and delivers a harrowing performance! Or wait, no, she just walks around looking skinny. Patrick Marber's setting the play during the night that Labor took Parliament in 1945 and ousted Winston Churchill is a stroke of genius! No, wait, it simply mires the play in unnecessary class politics that obscure rather than enlighten. Even the reviews with similar grades disagree, with some praising the adaptation but not the acting, and others believing the acting saves a pointless update of the material. The only points of consensus: Mark Brokaw's staging, Marin Ireland's performance (when mentioned), and Allen Moyer's set design all come out with generally favorable marks.

(Stephanie Zacharek) August Strindberg’s 1888 play Miss Julie is lauded as a great work, but I’m not so sure about that. It’s a terse, cold play that examines an archetypal hysterical female, locked into rigid ideas of sex and class, as if she were a bug under a jar. It is scarily persistent, though, and Patrick Marber’s After Miss Julie is the rare reimagining of a classic play that may actually improve upon the original. This passionate reworking shifts the setting to a country estate outside London in 1945—when the differences between lower and upper classes were supposedly dissolving—and strives to understand Strindberg’s confused characters instead of just diagnosing them.

Backstage A
(Erik Haagensen) After Roundabout's recent Bye Bye Birdie debacle, it's heartening to be able to report that the company has bounced back with a gripping production of Patrick Marber's After Miss Julie, his reworked version of Strindberg's classic...Film star Sienna Miller essays the title character. Though this is only her second stage appearance, she is clearly to the medium born. She wrings every nuance from her mercurial character and is particularly adept at suggesting the damaged girl within this restless and unhappy young woman. While Miller's beauty lights up the American Airlines Theatre, she doesn't rely upon it and is indeed fearless in abandoning it when necessary. When Miss Julie's fantasies of running off with John to New York to start a new life collapse, Miller turns her character's attempt to reassert her class privileges into a throbbing wound. Even when Miss Julie's actions threaten to destroy everyone around her, Miller makes her selfishness understandable and even sympathetic.

(David Cote) Of New York’s big nonprofit theaters, none has a weakness for star casting like the Roundabout Theatre Company. They seem incapable of mounting a show without a celebrity, however minor or unsuited to the task. But sometimes it actually works, as with "After Miss Julie," starring the lovely and unexpectedly potent Sienna Miller...Matching her for passion and rage is Jonny Lee Miller, athletic and forceful, but capable of shrinking into childlike terror as John. Together, they dance a toxic tango that’s sexy, dangerous and thrilling to watch.

Chicago Tribune A-
(Chris Jones) This is a very clever and consistently arresting script — Marber infuses the original drama with an upstairs-downstairs sense of social tension, but also recognizes that this was always mostly a play about sex. Thus this play...both captures the throbbing sensuality of its source and offers a juicy look at frustrated but ill-equipped Brits desperate to escape the post-war inertia of the grey world outside the manor. The eminently watchable Millers find two aptly contrasting modes of frustration — Sienna Miller's Julie is a spoiled self-hater with violent sexual desires (a danger of celebrity in any era), and a consequent need to switch at whim from aggressor to victim. Meanwhile, Jonny Lee Miller is like a caged animal, pacing the kitchen after being forced to switch from powerful soldier-killer to subservient shoe-shiner. No wonder he wants to sleep with his needy boss.

USAToday B
(Elysa Gardner) Julie's motives and her attraction to John (and his to her) are more complicated, though. As her personal background is revealed, Miller makes her desperation and desire palpable. She's at once willful and confused, sad and irritating. It is, for all its surface bravado — Miller speaks loudly and crisply, almost spitting out her lines at times — a nuanced performance. As John, British actor Jonny Lee Miller (no relation) is a worthy partner — a sparring partner. In character, the Millers can often seem poised to either kiss or punch each other, and it can be difficult to discern which. But if director Mark Brokaw milks the heated chemistry between John and Julie, he also allows them moments of sly wit and affecting tenderness.

(Michael Kuchwara) The Roundabout Theatre Company production, which opened Thursday at its American Airlines Theatre, demonstrates that Marber's updating and transplanting of the Scandinavian drama to post-World War II England works, for the most part, just fine.

Lighting and Sound America B
(David Barbour) If After Miss Julie must be listed under the season's misfires, it's a classy and fascinating one, put together by people of real talent. The problem is, what do we make of August Strindberg today -- and what of value does he have to say to us?

Hollywood Reporter B
(Frank Scheck) Certainly, Marber's version traffics in an erotic frankness at which Strindberg could only hint. But the updating really does the play no favors, as it only accentuates its less-subtle aspects. Hewing fairly closely to the original, "After Miss Julie" seems more like a footnote than a genuinely thoughtful reinvention. Still, the evening has its fascinations. In a more modern context, the psychological gamesmanship takes on an even deeper resonance. And Mark Brokaw's tense staging, though lacking the intimacy of the original Donmar Warehouse production, is very effective.

Theater News Online B
(Patrick Lee) The other two performances, under Mark Brokaw‘s direction, are consistently successful. Lee Miller brings a palpable, almost animal frustration to his portrayal of John that makes believable the character’s visceral attraction to Miss Julie. You can feel a lifetime of buried, hopeless ambition behind John’s every move. Ireland brings life to what could be a thankless “quiet dignity” role by emphasizing Christine’s intelligence. For the majority of the production, when all three actors are on the same page, After Miss Julie is charged, stimulating theatre.

NY Daily News B-
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Miller, making her Broadway debut, is improbably beautiful, every inch the "fine-looking filly" John calls her. She's committed and competent, but her performance is a shade monochromatic, not modulated enough to make Miss Julie's jagged edges sharp. Jonny Lee Miller, whose résumé is studded with London theater roles plus TV's "Eli Stone," also makes his New York debut. He's a dynamic, striking presence as the servant whose post-coital glow turns to ice once reality bites. Marin Ireland completes the cast as John's pragmatic fiancee, Christine, the family cook. A Tony nominee for Reasons to Be Pretty, she adds sizzle with withering stares that could peel paint - or flay flesh.

TheaterMania B-
(David Finkle) Director Mark Brokaw production is initially quite effective, but as it proceeds -- especially after Miss Julie and John have gone to his room to consummate their relationship, and after Christine has discovered them and later confronts him (none of which Strindberg strictly specified) -- the mood switches from genuinely theatrical to histrionic. Among its more problematic moments are the killing of Miss Julie's pet bird and its bloody aftermath (real and symbolic), which require a dramatic delicacy not entirely brought off by its leading lady.

NYPost B-
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) Strindberg described his heroine as having a "weak and degenerate brain," a strain of misogyny that made his play devastating. This isn't the Julie of Marber, director Mark Brokaw or Sienna Miller. John doesn't feel brutal enough, either. (Only the brilliant Marin Ireland, in the thankless part of the cook, succeeds in playing varying emotions, which move across her face like shifting clouds.) It's this fear -- or inability -- of making the two leads as unhinged or as odious as they need to be that keeps "After Miss Julie" from taking off.

Entertainment Weekly C
(Jeff Labrecque) When the audience is finally willing to accept that John is merely the instrument for Julie's self-destruction, the play inconveniently asserts the lovers' long-suppressed pining for each other, which only underlines the performers' shortcomings. The two lovers trade verbal blows, while deciding whether to run away to New York City. ''The Americans are charmed by us,'' says poor, bland John. ''They die for the accent.'' I wish it were so.

North Jersey C
(Robert Feldberg) After Miss Julie is never dull, but the characters don't invite much involvement; you regard them as you would curiosities in a sideshow. More than crazy passion is needed for a drama to hit home.

NYTimes C-
(Ben Brantley) While Mr. Miller and Ms. Miller are undeniably attractive people, their Julie and John don’t seem terribly attractive to each other, a serious problem. There is one early moment of real erotic tension, when Julie extends her leg and asks John to kiss her shoe. Ms. Miller looks smug at first, then saucy, then distinctly uncomfortable and finally a bit frightened, as Julie wonders what she has let herself in for. Mr. Miller snatches at that pretty foot like a ravenous fish going after a hooked worm. Unfortunately, he — and we — are destined to stay hungry for the rest of the night.

Bloomberg C-
(John Simon) Logic, a bit stretched even in Strindberg, is out the window in Marber. Nevertheless, something of the original survives, and this, given also the occasional witticism (Julie: Do I shock you? John: Not as much as you’d like to) makes the play watchable. Mark Brokaw, the director, has observed almost too well Strindberg’s request for extensive silences when only one character or none is onstage, or when conversation is supposed to bog down awkwardly. This is unusual and impressive. Moreover, he makes good use of the large, well-appointed set, on which distance between characters and flurries of movement can be effectively exploited. Strindbergian naturalism is well served.

Newsday D+
(Linda Winer) And so it is with After Miss Julie, Patrick Marber's pointless and pretty toothless British update of August Strindberg's 19th century Swedish power-play about class and sexual warfare. To be fair, there is sort of a point to director Mark Brokaw's good-looking production - that is, the fan-mag matchup of young British celebu-stars Sienna Miller and Jonny Lee Miller (no relation) with characters intended to shock audiences since 1888. Both prove to be real actors - but especially he does, as he twitches and flips between being an upward-mobile hustler and a besotted slave to the landowner's overheated daughter, who hunts him down in the huge old kitchen of the estate (meticulously designed by Allen Moyer).

On Off Broadway D+
(Matt Windman) Mark Brokaw's production features so many pauses that it makes the short play feel too long. Still, it benefits from a very realistic set design depicting a large, cluttered kitchen and a generally impressive three-member cast. Tabloid starlet Sienna Miller, who is making her Broadway debut as the title character, enters the stage with aggressive sexual authority, enough to melt down any man who enters her path. But as the play progresses, her attempts to convey Julie's fragile emotions and sudden desperation feel forced and artificial.

Variety D
(David Rooney) That's some handsome country kitchen Allen Moyer has designed for After Miss Julie, with its chunky farm table, its sideboard stacked with Wedgewood and its oven range fringed by hanging copper pots and hissing steam. Pity there's so little cooking in Mark Brokaw's enervated production. Like Strindberg's play, Patrick Marber's blunt postwar-English update of the 1888 drama about class and sex requires an actress capable of negotiating wild swings and reversals. But Sienna Miller is out of her depth in the title role, making her dance of power and death an unaffecting tragedy.

TalkinBroadway D
(Matthew Murray) Can one determined cook save a broth spoiled by too many interlopers? As it turns out in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s underpowered new production of After Miss Julie, the answer is no - but it’s a close call. Were it not for Marin Ireland, who plays the kitchen worker Christine, Patrick Marber’s play at the American Airlines would be far too soupy for even diehard gourmands to digest. But her presence adds a dash of desperately needed seasoning to an almost parodically watery evening.

New Jersey Newsroom D
(Michael Sommers) Unless someone is an unconditional fan of either Miller, there's little reason to see Roundabout Theatre Company's so-what production, which, considering the questionable necessity for reviving the piece at all these days, might better be titled "Why Miss Julie?"

Wall Street Journal F-
(Terry Teachout) Mr. Marber claims that After Miss Julie is "in its way, truer" than the original play on which it's based, but all he's done for Miss Julie is tart it up with politics and vulgarize it beyond recognition. As for Ms. Miller, a model turned second-tier movie star, all she does is stalk around the stage striking vampy poses and looking really, really skinny. I almost felt sorry for her, but the truth is that she has no more business playing a classic stage role than I have posing for the cover of Vogue. The Roundabout Theatre Company should be ashamed of itself for asking her to do so.

NY A 13; BS A 13; NY1 A 13; CT A- 12; USA B 10; AP B 10; THR B 10; LSA B 10; TNO B 10; NYP B- 9; TM B- 9; NYDN B- 9; EW C 7; NJ C 7; NYT C- 6; BB C- 6; ND D+ 5; OOB D+ 5; V D 4; TB D 4; NJNR D 4; WSJ F- 0; TOTAL: 176/23 = 7.66 (C+)


Anonymous said...

Never before has someone's inexperience in stage acting been so well cast as a crazy lady.

Anonymous said...

Miller was stuntcasting and obviously she didn't work out well. Her favourable reviews are few. Why they didn't cast Kelly Reilly as Julie who won rave reviews for this role in London is beyond me.

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